Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.
Reviewed by Karen Morris
No Ballet Shoes in Syria conveys an important message. Ballet classes offer comfort to 11-year-old Aya whose family has recently arrived in Manchester from Syria.
Our heroine has a habit of making promises. A promise to help her mother, who is bewildered and anxious in a new country. She promises to play with Moosa, her little brother and to solve their family’s problems. She pledges to return to ballet class when she feels able. These are enormous responsibilities for an 11-year-old. Thankfully, she finds Miss Helena’s ballet class and begins a friendship with a madcap extrovert, Dotty. A complex character, Aya, faces her life with determination and has a creative, problem-solving approach to life. She is never shown as a victim and becomes the voice of her fellow asylum-seekers.
Refreshingly most of the action is set in Manchester which will appeal to readers in the North West. The girls in the ballet class have never really considered the lives of refugees before. Their lives remind Aya of her life and friendships before the war. She remembers family scenes at sunset, girls walking to classes with bags slung over shoulders while laughing at silly stories, the routine of ballet practice—happy times in Syria before the outbreak of hostilities.
Ballet offers hope to Aya. She is a talented dancer, and as she regains her confidence, she is able her to take control of her life. Aya navigates her way through interviews and form-filling, and through her eyes, we witness the reality of the hostile environment. On the other hand, she is encouraged by her fellow asylum seekers, support workers and her teachers.
Great characters and storytelling, together with a strong message of social justice, provides an important message to her readers. This gives a powerful response to the toxicity surrounding the refugee situation at present.
Themes in the book could be used when exploring PSHE topics such as friendship (e.g. to care about other people’s feelings and to respect others’ points of view), drama (e.g. role on the wall, Readers Theatre, Forum Theatre) and cross-curricular topics such as Welcoming Refugees. It would also prompt some interesting discussions as a stimulus for Philosophy for Children. No Ballet Shoes in Syria is a powerful book which I would highly recommend for a class library in Year Six. If a child has enjoyed The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Raúf, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson or The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis, this would offer another viewpoint.
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